On the 101st anniversary of the armistice that ended the First World War, we take a look back at some prominent hockey players who set side the game they loved to go fight overseas and never returned. It was not uncommon for players to take up arms in either the First World War or Second World War, as some of the biggest names in the sport did so, before resuming their playing careers, but not all were so lucky.
While there were many young men that enjoyed the game of hockey and died during the wars, this article will feature five in particular that left a lasting legacy on the game.
Born: November 4, 1882 in Ottawa, Ontario.
Died: September 16, 1916 in the vicinity of Courcelette, France.
An inductee in the inaugural class of the Hockey Hall of Fame, “One-eyed” Frank McGee’s hockey career almost ended before it ever began. In 1900, when McGee was just 17, he lost the use of his left eye from a “lifted puck”, a predecessor to the beloved dump and chase tactic, during an amateur game. The injury caused him to leave the game for some time, before returning with the Ottawa Hockey Club in 1903, beginning a dynasty that would become known as the Ottawa Silver Seven.
This was the era when the Stanley Cup was defended through challenges, not awarded at the end of the season. The Silver Seven won the Cup in early March 1903, and successfully defended it nine times over the next three years before losing it to the Montreal Wanderers in March of 1906. The most famous challenge during that era came from the Dawson City Nuggets from Yukon. The Nuggets traveled to Ottawa to take on the champs, travelling on a journey that began on December 19, 1904 and traveled around 6,400 kilometres by dog sled, bicycle, foot, train, and ship to arrive to play on the 13th of January, 1905. The Silver Seven took the first game of the best-of-three series by a 9-2 score, with McGee scoring once. Three days later the teams played again, and the Silver Seven crushed the Nuggets 23-2, with McGee scoring 14 goals. Having won the series, Ottawa hosted the Dawson City team in a banquet, after which time the Stanley Cup was drop-kicked onto the frozen Rideau Canal, where it stayed until the next day.
When not playing hockey, McGee worked for what is the Department of Indian Affairs (now known as Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada). The job inhibited his ability to travel, so he retired after the loss to the Wanderers.
Despite being blind in one eye, McGee deceived the medical officer when enlisting by covering his blind eye once with each hand when asked to read from a chart. He was enlisted into the army as a lieutenant, serving in the 3rd Regiment (Duke of Cornwall’s Own Rifles) of the 21st Battalion. He suffered an injured knee in December of 1915 while operating a gun in the back of an armoured car. A shell landed nearby, knocking the car into a ditch, causing McGee to fall and puncture his knee. Though offered a posting away from the line, McGee returned to his unit in August of 1916, and was killed in or around Courcelette, France on September 16th during the Battle of Flers–Courcelette, part of the greater Somme Offensive. McGee’s body was never recovered, and his name is one of more than 11,000 fallen Canadians having no known place of burial written on the walls of the Vimy Memorial.
Allan McLean “Scotty” Davidson
Born: March 6, 1891 in Kingston, Ontario
Died: June 16, 1915 in the vicinity of Givenchy-en-Gohelle, France.
Growing up in Kingston, Scotty Davidson learned the game of hockey from James T. Sutherland, who would later gain fame as the creator of the CHL’s Memorial Cup, the Hockey Hall of Fame and the International Hockey Hall of Fame. He played for Kingston in the Ontario Hockey Association in both its junior and senior leagues, one season with the Calgary Athletics of the Southern Alberta Senior Hockey League, and finally turned pro with the Toronto Blueshirts in their first two seasons in the National Hockey Association. He had 19 goals in 20 games his first season, and 23 and 13 assists in his second season, and helped the Blueshirts beat the Montreal Canadiens for the Stanley Cup, as well as the O’Brien Cup (the NHA’s trophy). Davidson scored twice in the decisive second game.
Following the start of the First World War, Davidson became the first professional hockey player to enlist in Canada’s Expeditionary Force, attaining the rank of lance corporal. There are a few different versions of how he died. One story was that he was shot in the back and killed while attempting to carry an injured soldier to safety. Another story said that he died while on a bombing raid after refusing to retreat until he had spent his ammunition. He was said to have used his final grenade to kill a German officer before being killed himself. The official cause of death, pulled from the Circumstances of death registers with the Library and Archives Canada is that Davidson “was instantly killed by a shell which exploded near him in the trench”. He was buried in a common grave with two other men at the time, which was later lost. Now, like McGee and many others, his name is on the Vimy Memorial.
Born: March 28, 1919 in Windsor, Ontario
Died: December 13, 1944 in Hürtgen Forest, Germany.
Another Ontario boy to rise up by playing in the OHA, as well as the Michigan-Ontario Hockey League, Joe Turner bounced around a bit from team to team until a terrific season with the Detroit Holzbaugh of the MOHL in 1939-40 put him on the map. Posting a record of 27 wins, three losses, six ties with six shutouts. After another solid season, he joined the Indianapolis Capitols of the AHL, posting a 34-10-7 record with 4 shutouts, played in the first AHL All-Star Game, and lead the Capitols to a Calder Cup championship. He was called up for one NHL game with the Detroit Red Wings, allowing three goals in a 3-3 tie against the Toronto Maple Leafs on February 5, 1942.
Following the season, despite his Canadian citizenship, Turner volunteered for service with the U.S. Army as a 2nd Lieutenant and the leader on 2nd Platoon in Company K, 311th Infantry, 78th Division. He trained in the U.S.A. for two years before departing for Europe in October 1944. Turner was killed in the Battle of Hürtgen Forest. He was listed as missing on December 13, 1944, and then later, on January 12, 1945, his status was changed to killed in action.
Turner’s legacy would live on through the creation of a new league, the International Hockey League (IHL). The league’s championship trophy, the Turner Cup, was named in Turner’s honour, and was awarded annually from 1946 to 2001 when the league folded, and for three years in a resurrected version of the league from 2008 to 2010. The Trophy is now on display in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Turner is buried in the Victoria Memorial Gardens in Windsor, Ontario.
Born: January 7, 1918 in Montreal, Quebec.
Died: September 7, 1942 in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.
One of the best hockey players in Canadian university history, Russ McConnell turned down an offer from the New York Rangers so that he could join the Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve.
McConnell played for the University of McGill form 1935 to 1939, winning four championships, while also playing football as a running back for two seasons. In 94 career games with McGill, McConnell amassed 116 goals and 95 assists for a total of 211 points. In his final season, he pulled off 10 point games on two separate occasions (within five days of each other) and also once scored twice in seven seconds.
McConnell graduated with a commerce degree, and enlisted, though he still found time to play with the Montreal Royals.
On September 7, 1942, while aboard the armed yacht HMCS Raccoon, McConnell and 39 others were killed when the Raccoon was attacked and sunk by a U-Boat while guarding a convoy. McConnell’s remains were recovered on Anticosti Island on October 9th, 1942. He was given a funeral at sea with full honours. His name is on panel 8 of the Halifax Memorial.
Born: July 24, 1924 in Toronto, Ontario
Died: November 24, 1944 in Cabot Strait.
The outbreak of the Second World War meant that a number of NHL players and executives left hockey behind and enlisted, which created opportunities for many young players. Red Garrett was one of those.
At the age of 18, Garrett, who had led the OHA in penalty minutes the season before, had his rights traded from the Toronto Maple Leafs to the New York Rangers. Also going to the Rangers in the deal was Hank Goldup, while 1944 Hart Trophy winner Babe Pratt went to the Leafs.
Garrett played in 23 games for the Rangers in 1942-43, scoring once and adding one assist, with 18 penalty minutes. Garrett also played six American Hockey league (AHL) games this season. Garrett would eventually break his foot, but at season’s end, he hobbled his way to a recruiting officer to enlist in the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve. Garrett continued to play hockey on navy teams.
Working to become an officer, Able Seaman Garrett was getting sea time in order to get his commission, serving aboard the corvette HMCS Shawinigan. On November 24, 1944, having just completed an escort of a ferry, the Shawinigan went on a solo anti-submarine patrol in Cabot Strait and was not seen again. It was sunk by a U-Boat in the early morning hours of November 25th, with no survivors in the crew of 85. Garrett’s grave is in Toronto’s Mount Pleasant Cemetery.
In 1947, the AHL created the Dudley “Red” Garrett Memorial Award, given annually to that season’s most outstanding rookie, with voting conducted by players and media. Mason Appleton won the award in 2017-18 with the Manitoba Moose.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.